This partial biography is included in our family history as a result of legends that
members of the Nenno family (Nenaut, Neno) were bodyguards to this pope during his
exile in Sens, in eastern France. Ultimately, the Nenno clan took up residence
in the Alsace-Lorraine region to the north, as early as the 1600s, but in the 1100s were
part of the (Celtic) Lombard tribes in what is now northern Italy and eastern France, near
Pope Alexander III (born c. 1105, Siena, Tuscany — died Aug. 30, 1181, Rome) Pope (1159 – 81).
In 1152, Pope Adrian IV crowned Frederick I of Germany Holy Roman Emperor. It was an alliance formed for the mutual support and protection of the Church and the sovereign king against their enemies, especially the Normans. But within two years, the pope had befriended the Normans and no longer needed the protection of Frederick. The pope's relationship with the emperor gradually deteriorated until finally, at the Diet of Besançon in 1157, as the pope's representative Alexander challenged Frederick I's supremacy.
The convention had been called by Frederick to hear complaints from the papal legation on his treatment of Archbishop of Scandinavia, an outspoken anti-imperialist whom he had arrested. The historical fracas ensued over the papal legate's use of the Latin word beneficium, which could connote either personal benefit or feudal concession. Frederick insisted that his authority was God-given, not something conferred on him by the pope. But Alexander remained firm among the cardinals in opposing the supremacy of Frederick I.
With an eye to influencing the succeeding pope, Frederick plotted to undermine the cardinals who opposed him. He sent two anti-papist emissaries to Rome: Otto, Count of Wittelsbach, and archbishop-elect of Cologne, Rainald von Dassel, whose appointment was never confirmed by the Holy See. The emissaries' work became evident when it came time for the twenty-two cardinals to elect the pope's successor: Alexander, though favored by a majority after three days of deliberations, was opposed by three imperialist cardinals, who voted for Victor IV. The conclave, or gathering of cardinals for the express purpose of choosing a pope, was disbursed by a horde sympathetic to the antipope Victor IV, and Alexander fled south, where he was consecrated pope at the monastery of Farfa.
Frederick believed, as protector of Christendom, that it was his duty to solve the controversy among the cardinals over the papal election. But Alexander refused to cede such authority over to the earthly jurisdiction of the emperor. After refusing to acknowledge Alexander III as true pope, Frederick was excommunicated in 1160. The schism this created would last for seventeen years, with Frederick installing succeeding antipopes Paschal III (1164 - 1168) and Calixtus III (1168 - 1178) in Rome. With Alexander in exile in France from 1162 to 1165, and in Gaeta, Benevento, Anagni, and Venice in 1167, he became the West's symbol of resistance to German domination. Frederick, meanwhile, busy defending his sovereignty, fell to the Lombard League, an alliance of the northern cities of Verona, Vicenza, and Padua, along with Venice, Constantinople, and Sicily. In 1176, after numerous attempts to overthrow the League and the pope, and after seeing his army destroyed in Rome by a fatal fever, Frederick surrendered at the battle of Legnano. At the treaty of Venice the following year, Frederick submitted and recognized Alexander as pope.
Trouble in Canterbury
While in exile in France, Alexander met Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. Becket had been chancellor to Henry II of England, and when appointed archbishop he was hesitant to accept the position, fearing his duties as archbishop would require him to take positions unfavorable to the king. This indeed was the case, especially on issues that pitted church and crown against one another. In 1164, Becket was forced to flee England.
Alexander III, having received support from England, was hesitant to criticize Henry II, even as the king tried to shape the relationship between the church and state in such a way that the state would have precedence in certain legal issues and could weigh in on matters of excommunication. Alexander, still the quintessential diplomat, advised Becket in 1165 that he should "not act hastily or rashly" and that he ought to attempt to "regain the favor and goodwill of the illustrious English king." Scholars have both scrutinized and censured Alexander for his failure to defend Becket against Henry. Many believe the conflict did not have much resonance for the pope at the time, while others suggest that twelfth-century canon law did not support Becket's legal arguments. Still other scholars marvel at Alexander's diplomatic skills, adding that his vast experience with secular leaders told him persuasion generally yielded better results than confrontation.
In 1170, after an escalation in the conflicts between the archbishop and Henry II, the archbishop was murdered at the altar of his cathedral by four knights. Alexander canonized the saint two years later, and in 1174 humbled the British king by receiving his penance and securing from Henry II all the rights for which Becket had fought.
This story obviously continues. For more information on Alexander III, visit Britannica.com.